Old Documents 

When researching your Family History, have you ever experienced the excitement of discovering your ancestor’s name in a will or parish register only to find moments later that you couldn’t read a word of it?

If so, you are not alone.

Example of Secretary Hand.

Reading old handwriting (palaeography) takes a whole range of skills.

Firstly, many documents we use for genealogy were written in “Secretary Hand” use forms of many basic letters which are quite different to those we use today. Next, of course, there is the very variable spelling! And, just when you thought you’d got that figured out, there are the missing letters and parts of words which scribes used to speed the whole thing up. Finally, parts, or the whole thing, may be in Latin…

On top of all that, there is a high chance that the document you are looking at is torn, ink-stained, water-damaged or even mouldy!

Do not despair!

Send me a copy of your Family History document via email, or by good old postage, and I will transcribe it for you into good, readable English.

An example of early handwriting to be transcribed into modern English.

I can either make you a copy keeping the quaint spelling and phrasing, or render the entire thing into modern English; whichever you prefer.

So far, people researching their family histories have asked me to transcribe wills, indentures, letters from a ship's captain, property transfers and even documents relating to the building of the railways.

The documents about the railways were from the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, but were very difficult to read, whilst the earliest wills have been from the 15th century.

Extract from 17th century parish register showing a young black man living in Norfolk.
The extract above from Woodton Parish Register was worth puzzling out. It shows evidence of a young black man living in rural Norfolk in the 1640s. "Francis a blackamore servant to Christopher Spendlove vicar de Wodeton of the age (as was supposed) of 20 yeares being for some yeares a catechised person & could in some competent measure give an account or his faith was Christened the 26th of September & named Francis."

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